Opinion

Pastor-politician Jon Mutchler cares for community in both roles

The “pastortician”—the pastor-turned-politician may be as rare as hybrid beefalo or zonky. There aren’t many. I’m one.

Politicians emerge from many professions and no one blinks: law, education, business, sports, farming, entertainment.

But when a member of the clergy runs for public office some do a double-take, as if looking at a freak of nature. Trust me, they do. I read and hear about it.

Soiled by politics

Over the holidays the spouse of an elected county official wrote me: “Why one would entertain both a church vocation and a political one is beyond my comprehension!” This morning a friend asked a similar question.

Some believe there is something too “lofty” about religious work and that ministers shouldn’t get “soiled” by politics.

Others express a distrust of preachers and would feel safer if a used car salesman were elected (no offense to salesmen!). While in public office I’ve been called, in writing, a “cult” leader and a terrorist “mullah.”

I am more often quizzed on how I reconcile my dual responsibilities than my positions on critical issues like the Cherry Point terminal or jail proposal.

My art and canvas

Preachers-turned-public-servants don’t quite sit with us. On the far right we have the Pat Robertsons; on the left, the Jesse Jacksons: preacher/politicians who just didn’t resonate with all the public.

My job and career is church pastor. My craft and art is the soul-care of my congregation. If developing healthy lives is my “art,” then the canvas where I practice and apply my art is our community. And politics is part of the process that shapes, supports, defines and stretches that canvas.

Religious or not, our community is the context and environment where all of us express our lives and service. Like everyone, we want it to be safe, healthy, free and vibrant. So of course I care about it. Our church is part of our community. And vice versa: our city is part of our church.

Taxes, economic development, jobs, safety, schools, the environment. We’re not so "heavenly-minded” that we don’t care deeply about these “earthly” things. They impact our families — maybe more than any sermon!

Religious agenda?

“But Mutchler, you must have a religious agenda!”

Here it is: We want people to excel. We want families to be safe and prosper. We want citizens to have the freedom to make thoughtful and healthy choices to better themselves and their families. And when those choices don’t pan out, we want people to take responsibility, but to also show patience and generosity toward those struggling.

Church life is much like city life: a mixture of good and bad, joy and hurt, success and failure. We are made up of households of families, single parents, widows, students. I see folks at their best (a wedding day, birth of a child) and at their worst (at the jail, the tragic 2 a.m. call, a disintegrating family, a job loss or terrifying doctor’s news).

I’m not perfect. Draw up a list of “sinners,” and bump my name to the top. The “holier-than-thou” caricature of the classic fire-and-brimstone preacher makes a great punching bag in the movies, but I’ve found few in real life.

My vocation teaches me to respect people. I trust folks and give them the benefit of the doubt. I listen well and approach issues with an open mind. I try to understand the core concerns of my opponents and recognize and affirm that we live in a free and pluralistic society where my ideas have to compete with yours.

Like anything, politics can be a distraction, an idol. It’s easy to lose one’s way. It’s fraught with temptations that can damage our character and hurt our friendships. It’s a challenge to practice it with integrity and charity.

The front door

Pastors know we live in a complex, multi-cultural society. Perhaps the most important part of the church is the front door: it separates the realm of the church from the world of a free, democratic society. I’m a church pastor, not the city chaplain. But I have the responsibility and right to influence what happens in my city. Politics is one way for me.

I’m a pastor and a politician. I am confident that my pastoral experiences have made me a better elected official. But unexpectedly, my city council experiences have also made me a better pastor and a better man.

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